All posts by Susan_S

Why celebrate International Women’s Day?

Observed annually every 8th March, International Women’s Day is held as a worldwide day of celebration, protest and, in some countries, as a national holiday.  Last year saw the first University of the Highlands and Islands wide event to mark International Women’s Day.  The event was fully booked within 24 hours.

Women's Day, UHI
Alex Walker and Deborah Halliday

Why was there was such an appetite for the event? To quote the International Women’s campaign “we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”  This year’s International Women’s Day global theme is #BalanceforBetter. In a time where the spotlight is rightly being shone on the gender inequalities across society, the workplace and in education, International Women’s Day provides our university, like others, with the opportunity to highlight what we are doing to tackle gender inequalities in education for colleagues working in research, professional services and in learning and teaching.  International Women’s Day also provides us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the university.

It’s been a busy year since International Women’s Day 2018 with a ripple of change that has come from the event taking place. A ripple that we hope will continue to gain momentum! Our keynote speaker was Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal for Widening Participation and Community at Edinburgh Napier University. Sandra explored why Women’s Networks are needed in further and higher education.

From those conversations, we have now established our own university Women’s IWD3Network and were fortunate to have international scholar and activist Professor Antonia Darder open the inaugural network meeting in July. The network meets quarterly to explore how we can better promote gender equality at the university, but also to hear from inspirational speakers and to take stock of the great work that is already being done to support equality across the university.

This includes initiatives such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network, to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. In 2015 the Charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. Dr Mary Doherty, Senior Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Researcher Development, spoke at International Women’s Day 2018 around the work she led that resulted in the university successfully achieving  an Athena Swan Bronze Award in 2016.  Since Athena Swan Bronze Award 2018 the working group, which is chaired by Mary, has expanded to include professional services staff and is working towards both renewal of our accreditation and the submission of individual department awards.

Our first Athena Swan Bronze Award event also highlighted the need to have development opportunities in place to support women to enhance their leadership skills. Since the 2018 event, the university mentoring scheme has been further developed to offer a range of mentoring opportunities which can benefit our women colleagues and help them develop their research and leadership skills. The university has also funded ten colleagues who identify as women to take part in the Advance HE Aurora Leadership Programme.

8 and 9 Rhea_Kay
Rhea Kay, University of the Highlands and Islands Higher Education Student of the Year 2018

International Women’s Day also provides the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women!  The University of the Highlands and Islands is a dispersed university, with 13 academic partners located throughout the Highlands and Islands region. International Women’s Day provides a forum for the university to bring together colleagues across the network to celebrate and share the many great achievements of those who identify as women.

In 2018 we heard from women in senior roles, including Fiona McLean, Vice-Chair of Court for the University and Chair of the Equality and Diversity in Governance Working

UHI Learning and Teaching Conference, Inverness Campus, June 19t
Dr Sue Engstrand

Group, who opened the programme for the day. Fiona has been a great supporter in promoting equality at the university and is currently providing support to those on the Aurora leadership programme as a mentor and role model. This year, our International Women’s Day event was opened by Dr Sue Engstrand, Interim Dean of our faculty of science, health and engineering. Sue is a mentor, Auroran alumni and inspiration to those she mentors, supports and leads. It’s this commitment to empowering others and passion for equality that inspires change! We also heard two inspirational stories from our staff and student presenters and invited participants to celebrate someone who identifies as a woman that inspires them.


Should we only be celebrating the achievements of women on one day of the year? No, we should celebrating the achievements of women every day. Should we use 8th March to bring together some of those inspirational women together in celebration? Yes we should!

Alex Walker

Professional Recognition and Development Coordinator and International Women’s Day organiser for the University of the Highlands and Islands



Medieval Scotland on film – Outlaw King and the historical past

With the new Netflix film Outlaw King released this month, Dr Iain MacInnes of the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History considers the historical accuracy of Medieval Scotland on film.

NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015This month sees the release of the much-anticipated Netflix original film, Outlaw King. Directed by David Mackenzie and starring Hollywood’s Chris Pine, more usually found in blockbuster franchises like Star Trek and Wonder Woman, Outlaw King is one of a number of medieval historical dramas soon to make their way to our screens.

But, just as the trailer for the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots film prompted criticism across social media for apparent historical inaccuracy after it appeared to show Mary and Elizabeth meeting face to face (an event most historians agree never took place), so too will Outlaw King find itself under similar scrutiny.

Mackenzie has an ace up his sleeve, however. His narrative story of the life and career of King Robert I (Robert ‘the Bruce’) will be drawn in large part from a medieval source: John Barbour’s late-fourteenth-century epic poem, The Bruce. Surely this will enable Outlaw King to sidestep accusations of manipulating historical events for dramatic impact?

Just because a source is medieval, though, doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. Even medieval writers were less concerned about historical accuracy than they were with a good story which casts their protagonists in the best light. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart famously trumpeted its historical credentials as it too was based on a medieval source text, Blind Harry’s Wallace. But, writing 150 years after the events he described, Harry had a tendency to fill in the gaps of his historical knowledge with a good dollop of artistic license. The Wallace was also written with a very particular audience and political outlook in mind. Outlaw King faces similar issues with Barbour’s Bruce.NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015

The best-known and most-detailed account of the period, The Bruce, was written in the 1370s, several decades after the events it described. Barbour wrote that “truthfulness […] reveals things just as they were, [for] true events that are pleasing are entertaining to the hearer.” But, despite this noble sentiment, historical veracity was not his main concern. Barbour was writing a history of the events of the Wars of Independence knowing what his intended audience wanted to hear. Written at the court of the new Stewart dynasty (descendants of Robert I through his daughter), Barbour had an incentive to depict the king’s forebear in a particularly positive light.

More than this, Barbour was basing his work on a foundation of history writing that had been consciously developed by Robert I and his administration which stressed the importance of the king to Scotland’s independence. Without Bruce, so the story would go, there would be no Scotland. The king and the kingdom’s independence were indelibly linked.

Furthermore, war with England was depicted as a noble and heroic enterprise, an important message in a period when war had been in abeyance. Barbour’s Bruce, then, was very deliberately intended to speak to a late fourteenth-century audience and to inspire feelings of antagonism against the neighbours to the south. Given the recent post-Brexit reinvigoration of the Scottish Independence debate, you can’t help but wonder if – in some quarters, at least – Outlaw King will fulfil a similar role.

Row of Antique BooksThe Bruce is also, of course, a cracking good read. It focuses on those episodes that were of greatest interest to those at the time and which still capture the imagination today – skirmishes, sieges, the rags to riches story of the king and, ultimately, the Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314.

Such a narrative focuses on the king himself and on those who supported him. But it also carefully excises those who opposed Bruce and indeed the whole question of an alternative Scottish royal dynasty. That Robert I singularly failed to heal the rifts within the kingdom that he had himself created was borne out by the fact that civil war recommenced in Scotland barely three years after his death and war with England followed thereafter. But Barbour did not tell that story – nor was his audience particularly keen on hearing it.

The problem with The Bruce is that its tales of daring-do are often taken more popularly as “fact.” This is in part because Barbour’s narrative often appears authoritative: there is sometimes little evidence to contradict it and it is just so deceptively convincing.

When we think of “historical accuracy” as it is represented in Outlaw King, therefore, we have to remember that the source it is based on is itself not historically accurate. Whether modern or medieval, texts like The Bruce and Outlaw King are merely facsimiles of the past which speak as much to the period in which they were produced as they do to the specific period of the Wars of Independence. Such depictions are not “fake news,” but neither are they “truth.” And, as Indiana Jones famously stated, “if it’s truth Filmyou’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.”

So, instead of getting too bogged down in discussions of historical accuracy, let’s instead welcome this latest foray into medieval Scottish history. Let’s look forward to the renewed engagement with medieval Scottish history and renewed debates about this fascinating period that such a high-profile depiction as Outlaw King will surely provoke.

Dr Iain MacInnes, Senior Lecturer, University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History

To find out more about the Centre for History, visit 



RaeFresh back from a Royal Aeronautical Society conference in Bristol, Professor Andrew Rae provides insights into air transport of the future, including the possibilities of drone taxis and electric aeroplanes.

Much is being made of the development of driverless cars, especially of the setbacks, as the technology matures towards a feasible application. While driverless cars will alter the way we travel, the concept will not necessarily fundamentally alter the vehicle in which we get from A to B. The cabin layout may change, with the removal of the requirement for a forward-facing driver, but the car will probably still have four wheels, doors and somewhere to put your luggage, your shopping, or your faithful companion, canine or otherwise. The move away from fossil fuels will possibly have more effect on the design of our runabouts than the move towards autonomous operation.

The same cannot be said for the possibility of pilotless aeroplanes. While the move towards electric propulsion will allow the designers of aeroplanes to explore new configurations, the technology behind autonomous flight will open entirely new markets and, thus, new and very different, types of aircraft. All of the major airframe manufactures are contemplating air vehicles based essentially on the technology familiar to many of us who have seen and played with drones, from handheld toys to platforms capable of high-definition aerial surveying. The prospect has also attracted a variety of start-ups or companies not normally associated with building aeroplanes, enticed by the notion of a ‘flying taxi’ or ‘urban air mobility’.


As with most technologies, there are many positive ways to use uninhabited air vehicles (UAVs) and there are those who will seek to exploit them for nefarious purposes. The low-cost and relatively high capability of ‘toy’ drones has allowed us, for example, to explore the notion of a ‘remote pharmacy’, delivering prescription medication directly to those in remote and rural locations or the personal distribution of parcels from your favourite online shopping provider.  At the same time, they are being used to supply those in prison with contraband items or to be cheap weapons delivery systems in areas of conflict.

The rapid advance in drone capability and availability has outpaced the legislation needed to ensure the safety of the skies above us. Many of those flying drones will be unaware of, and consequently break, the current requirements of pilots. These include minimum distances to be kept from people or buildings and the need to keep the drone in sight at all times. That said, the ability to do many tasks more easily, more safely and more cheaply than is currently possible, and allow some tasks that were previously impossible, means that the positive uses of drones are only beginning to be explored.

CaptureThe concept of urban air mobility raises additional questions beyond the mere feasibility of the technology. One of these is the impact on our environment. In a modern urban environment, traffic will often blend into the background noise, with only the occasional siren or loud exhaust piercing our consciousness. Helicopters fall into this same category; we are generally aware of one nearby. The thought of hundreds of helicopter-like vehicles operating constantly would thus present a relative assault on our senses, added to which, drone rotors rotate much quicker and thus produce a higher frequency noise.

NASA has conducted psychoacoustic studies, at its Exterior Effects Room at Langley Research Center, to gauge the subjective response to noise from flyovers of small UAVs against that from road vehicles in residential neighbourhoods. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UAVs were found to be more annoying than conventional traffic, even when of the same loudness, suggesting that the type (frequency) of the drone noise is more intrusive. However, it is probable that, could the same test have been performed in the Victorian age, when pitting automobiles against horse-drown transport, the same conclusion may have been reached, and look where we are now! Also, the reduction of emissions from electric motors is welcome, but the electricity has to come from somewhere.


As a designer of aeroplanes, I am truly excited by the possibilities offered by autonomous flight. Our UAV work at  the University of the Highlands and Islands includes the development, evaluation and operational aspects of new UAV designs, including the ‘Phoenix’ ultra-long endurance aeroplane that is part airship, part aeroplane and is self-sufficient in energy. This 15m-long, 10.5m-wingspan vehicle is being developed as part of an Innovate-UK-funded project and will commence flight tests in October this year.

The advances being made in battery technology and hybrid systems will see the embrace of electric aerial propulsion, and will allow us as designers to move away from the constraints on the configuration made by the gas-turbine engine. Running a ring-main around the aircraft will allow us to put propulsors almost anywhere and everywhere. However, the freedoms offered by these things have had, and will increasingly have, an impact on or lives and our environment.

As an engineer, I am thrilled by the possibility that things which seemed science fiction just a decade ago are now becoming reality, though wary of the way in which humanity can respond to such opportunities.


Professor Andrew Rae, Professor of Engineering, Perth College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands

For information on the University of the Highlands and Islands’ aircraft engineering and maintenance programmes, visit:

Slow Adventure: Helping to alleviate the pressures of tourism?

With visitor numbers to Scotland increasing by 17% in 2017 and reports of another successful summer season this year, Dr Steve Taylor from the Centre Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UHI discusses the potential of slow adventure to create a more sustainable tourism sector.

TreesA recent episode of BBC’s Countryfile included a feature, ostensibly focussed on the Isle of Skye and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, on the very current issue of tourism pressures at some of the country’s most popular tourism sites. Dubbed ‘over-tourism’, the term has been used in the popular media, here and overseas, to describe the scale of the threats to the environmental and social fabric of local communities in these prime locations. The problem is not necessarily one of too many tourists, per se, but rather the over-concentration of visitors at honeypot sites, most notably in this peak season.

Alongside more direct managerial interventions in the national park, the presenter introduced ‘slow tourism’ as a possible way of encouraging tourists to visit and dwell longer in these less well-known and less-congested areas. Sara Mair Bellshaw, from the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research in West Highland College UHI, Fort William, explained how slow tourism or more correctly ‘slow adventure’ tourism could help to attract people to some of the west coast’s wilder and unspoilt areas. Leon and Alison Durbin of Wildwood Bushcraft assisted Sara in this feature with the provision of bushcraft skills and expertise, as they are part of a group of businesses who create slow adventure experiences for visitors in Lochaber.

West Highland College UHI, Adventure stock shootThis notion of slow adventure, derived from an academic paper by two former University of the Highlands and Islands’ academics, suggests an antidote to people’s frenetic urban lives, encouraging people to enjoy and experience the outdoors at a slower pace. Rather than mass tourism’s scratching the veneer of Scotland, slow adventurers immerse themselves in wild places and engage with local people, stories and food. It appeals to an affluent urban consumer base and captures a customer appetite demonstrated by the many bushcraft or escape programmes and stories in popular media.

Slow adventure was developed as a marketing concept in a recent transnational project, led by the University of the Highlands and Islands and co-financed by the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme. Facilitating the collaboration of local businesses, regions across Scandinavia, Ireland and the UK have developed a wide range of slow adventure products, from foraging in Lochaber to cycling and sauna in Finland. The research centre in Fort William is now looking to develop slow adventure as a ‘movement’ that will encourage businesses from other destinations and regions, in Scotland and beyond, to develop their own unique sustainable tourism products.

BikeClearly, adventures at a slower pace are not for everyone and the majority of our visitors will be undeterred in their quest to see as much as possible. However, it is clear from discussions with tour operators and marketing bodies at international tradeshows that slow adventure is a marketing brand that does capture the current consumer appetite for more authentic and immersive experiences. And slow adventure recognises that Scotland’s landscapes have so much to offer in the cooler seasons – and more visitors appear to be waking up to the fact that late spring is, in many ways, the time to see the best of the Highlands.

The creation of these tourism alternatives is not trying to reduce the number of tourists to our shores. While also appealing to a more affluent consumer, slow adventure seeks to take people off the well-trammelled tourist trail into the wilder and less developed areas of the Highlands. And rather than the rush to ‘do Scotland’ – do we not have enough haste in our everyday lives? – it’s about getting to people to slow down, stay a while, learn something new and let stories, not selfies, narrate people’s experience of the Highlands.


Dr Steve Taylor, Head of the Centre Recreation and Tourism Research, West Highland College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands

For more information on University of the Highlands and Islands courses, visit

Turning Blue Monday green: the physical and mental benefits of green exercise

With the festive season nearly over and Blue Monday fast approaching, University of the Highlands and Islands PhD student Matthew Fraser provides insights into the physical and mental benefits of green exercise.

At this time of year it’s easy to slip into bad habits. From a dietary perspective, a lot of us over the festive period find ourselves eating things we normally wouldn’t consume. DrinksCombine this with the dropping temperatures, inclement weather and gyms closing for holidays and many of us will find ourselves conducting less physical activity and adopting poor lifestyle habits.

As a direct result of this, many us of set a New Year’s resolution designed to physically and mentally motivate us to take up positive habits. Despite this, statistics show that 80% will have quit this resolution by February. We fail to maintain our resolutions for many reasons, but typically creating unrealistic resolutions is the largest contributor to failure.

However, a new emerging form of physical activity is at the centre of exercise research and has been shown to not only increase motivation, but to offer supplementary mental and physical health benefits.

KayakSo what is this new form of exercise I hear you say? Well it’s not new. In fact it’s the oldest known form of exercise to man. It’s called outdoor exercise, newly termed ‘green exercise’. Areas to conduct green exercise are not exclusive to outdoor areas which are green. The research notes that local parks, mountains, hill trails, woodlands, beaches and public greenspaces are areas where benefits occur.

How can green exercise benefit us?

My current PhD research centres around green exercise. Being from a sporting background, I was surprised to discover the sheer amount of benefits that we unconsciously receive from conducting exercise in the presence of nature. I’m sure many of us by now have heard the exercise guidelines that recommend exercise for 150 minutes per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity.

While we all should aim to meet these targets, many of us find it challenging to begin conducting exercise. However, an interesting finding from the green exercise research found that, when walking at a self-selected intensity outdoors, participants actually exercise at a greater intensity whilst paradoxically perceiving the exercise as easier, compared to exercising indoors.

Most of the research into green exercise has tended to focus on mental health benefits. Mental health has become an increasingly large issue in modern society. Take ‘Blue Monday’. Blue Monday is the third Monday of January and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. So how can green exercise help improve our mental health? The figure below demonstrates just some of the mental health benefits of exercising in nature.


In terms of winter exercise, it has been shown that a 50 minute walk can improve focus and memory by 20%. GolfThis finding might be important for those of us who work or study in jobs where we are required to problem solve and concentrate for long periods of time. Whilst 50 minutes may seem like a long time to exercise, other studies have shown the greatest benefits to improving mood and self-esteem occur just after five minutes of green exercise.

Not only this, but the natural environment provides an area conducive for social interaction with friends, while also providing us with an escape from the stresses of everyday life.

How to set goals?

Many of us set goals for the New Year for various health reasons. When setting a New Year’s resolution we should make sure it follows the SMART goal setting framework:

  1. Specific
  2. Measureable
  3. Attainable
  4. Realistic
  5. Time Measured

TimeSetting specific goals means instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to start exercising”, you would say “I’m going to go walking three time a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds”. By doing this you’re making your goals measureable. But remember, take small steps – taking on too much at once makes many quit through seeing no progress.

Most importantly, any goal you set should be attainable and realistic. For example, say “I’m going to go walking for 30 minutes, three times a week” or “I’m going to lose two pounds in three weeks”.

Finally, by making your goals time measured, you can celebrate reaching milestones and thus keep increasing motivation to succeed with your goals.


Hopefully this article highlighted some of the benefits of conducting physical activity in nature. If you’d like to hear more about my research or even volunteer to participate in some of my research to witness for yourself the benefits of conducting outdoor exercise, I’d love to hear from you.Bike

Thanks and I wish you all a prosperous and successful New Year!

Twitter: @MattJamesFraser



For more information on the University of the Highlands and Islands health-related programmes and research, visit

“This year will be different!” Top tips on setting and sticking to your New Year’s resolutions

Wendy Maltinsky, a health psychologist at the University of the Highlands and Islands, shares advice on how to achieve your goals in 2018.

It’s New Year’s Day. Perhaps nursing a hangover, maybe with a bit less sleep than you may have liked, you spot the tattered sheet listing a set of New Year’s resolutions that you enthusiastically, but rashly made just before the bells.

On the sheet there are a lot of the old favourites that you have written from one year to the next, like taking up running, drinking more water and eating less chocolate.Gym But, added to that, this year there are ambitions such as Munro bagging (you’ve never managed anything higher than the two flights of stairs at the new Inverness College UHI campus and that’s only if you stop for a breather half way) and learning a musical instrument.

Hot tips for health behaviour change

New Year’s resolutions are difficult to keep because they are often overly ambitious, they don’t come with a clear plan of how to manage them and there are often too many things to change at one time. It’s good to try to make plans, but it’s also good to see yourself make progress. Making and breaking habits can be easier when we follow a few tips.

PlanWhat I want, what I really, really want

Changing something is much easier if you’ve thought about why it’s important to you. Consider your responses to these questions: 1. Write down three things that you think will be better once you have changed your behaviour.  2. On a scale of 0 – 10 how important is this change for you?  3. What would need to happen in your life for it to become more important for you to change your behaviour? What one thing can you do to make it easier for you to make this change?

Reducing the load – set a goal and make a plan

Cognitive load is the amount of thinking we have to do at any one time and it includes what you’re going to make for tea, all the things you need to do for work, plus all the little but important things that you need to remember on a daily basis. We tend to resort to habits because it reduces our cognitive load (take the elevator, flop on sofa after work, eat cake at coffee break) – we don’t need to think about it and also because there is a reward (less effort expended taking the elevator, relaxing after a hard day and CAKE!)

CaptureTo reduce the load, set a goal that includes precisely what you will do, a very specific time and maybe even a location. The goal should be difficult enough to feel a bit of a challenge, but not so difficult that you’ll find it too hard. This is an implementation intention and it links what you will do with a specific cue such as “at 5pm I will go for a one mile walk to the shop and back after work.” There are a few cues which will help to remind you.

Anticipate challenges

People who think ahead about the challenges that they may face and prepare for how to deal with them are much more likely to achieve their goals. For example, if you have decided you will go for a walk after work, but find that you are tired, it’s raining and your children need a lift to their piano lessons, your goal will quickly become extinguished. But, if you consider these challenges in advance, you could perhaps change your goal to walking at lunchtime when you have more energy and taking an umbrella if it rains.

The best rewards

People will tend to do what comes easiest to them and offers the best rewards. TomatoesChoosing between chocolate or crisps and an apple, for example, will seem easy when you are sitting working out your goals, but when faced with these things directly, when you are busy or stressed, you will choose the one with the best or most immediate reward.

To make it easier, consider giving yourself a couple of days off – “on Friday nights, I will reward myself by having crisps.” Also make your plan an asset based one – rather than denying yourself something, replace it with something else such as vegetables and dip instead of crisps.

Hung for a sheep as a lamb

Many of us suffer from feeling we have slipped up on our goals. Focus on the positives, remind yourself how well you are doing and that a small relapse can be valuable. Your way of thinking about these relapses can influence how quickly you will be able to return to your plans. When two groups of people were invited to eat cake, some were told it was very high in calories while the others were told it was low fat. Those who were told it was low fat were able to continue with their healthy eating goals, while those who believed they had eaten the high fat version gave up. If they had reviewed their thinking they may have been able to return to their plans.

Support and commitment

Things are always easiest when you can enlist support from a friend or family member. Enlist the help of a friend, but make sure you tell them what your goal is.  This has the added advantage of acting as a social commitment.


Monitoring what you are doing not only provides you with feedback, but can also give you a sense or reward. SaladIn addition, it acts as a reminder about what you did that worked well, so when things start to slip, you can have a look back.

But, make sure that the way you monitor is easy or you will suffer from diary fatigue. Use the numerous apps that are available for free. If you want to eat healthily, take pictures of everything you eat and review it at the end of the week or use a smaller plate and fill two thirds of it with vegetables.

Reward your achievements and permit slips and lapses

Don’t forget to reward yourself with your achievements and permit yourself lapses – we are only human!


Wendy Maltinsky is a health psychologist who teaches on the University of the Highlands and Islands psychology BSc (Hons) degree and works as a health psychologist and research fellow at the University of Stirling. Psychology cohort graduation, September 2015 She has been involved in delivering health behaviour change training to health practitioners throughout Scotland for both her current role as well as for the NHS previously.

She has worked in Uganda alongside the Royal College of Midwives and the Uganda Private Midwives Association supporting the health partnership to have enduring behavioural change outcomes. She is shortly due to travel to Ethiopia on a United Nations sponsored project in Nutrition where she will be working with community health extension workers.

For further information about behaviour change or about any of the projects Wendy is involved in, please contact her at

For more information about the University of the Highlands and Islands psychology BSc (Hons), visit

An insight into Archaeoacoustics

Nick Green, sector manager for audio engineering and theatre arts at Perth College UHI, recently attended the Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference in Portugal. Nick provides an insight into the emerging discipline of archaeoacoustics and discusses his experience at the event.

The field of Archaeoacoustics

Archaeoacoustics is a multidisciplinary practice requiring the knowledge of anthropologists and archaeologists, architects, acousticians, audio engineers and sound designers, historians and musicologists. As a sound designer and audio engineer, I came to archaeoacoustics through acoustic ecology (the study of the relationship between human beings and their environment, mediated through sound) and through conversations with archaeologists.

Anthropologist Dr Ezra Zubrow states in ‘Archaeoacosutics; The Archaeology of Sound’: “Indeed, many of its practitioners do not even realize that it is a field, albeit a very immature field. Nor do they think of themselves as archaeoacousticians. Rather they consider themselves to be sound engineers, architects, musical historians, ethnomusicologits and practicing musicians to name a few.”

My research is primarily concerned with the recording, analysis and archiving of impulse responses recorded in heritage and archaeological sites. Generally this requires man made or naturally occurring spaces used by our ancestors, such as caves.

Field recording in Court Cave Wemyss Bay
Nick Green recording in Court Cave at Wemyss Bay

An impulse response is the introduction of a relatively short broadband sound such as a controlled explosion. They can be generated successfully by bursting a balloon, firing a starter’s pistol or amplifying a short burst of random noise (white noise) through a loudspeaker system and recording the results.

Author of ‘Digital Signal Processing: An Introduction’ Tae Hong Park describes an impulse response as “agitating a system”. In this case the agitation is the introduction of the impulse, the short broadband sound; the system is the acoustic space, a room, a hall, a cave or even within the standing stones of an ancient Neolithic stone circle.

Once the recorded files are digitally processed and edited, they can be played back in a digital audio workstation and used to recreate the reverberation characteristics of the space in which they were recorded.

The field of achcaeoacoustics spawned from considerations around how and why our ancestors may have used spaces for their reverberant and resonant qualities. Sound designers and musicologists may imagine the soundscape of our ancestors and create compositions inspired by these spaces and places.

Excavation at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

A current and very exciting archaeological dig taking place at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney, is further expanding the number of Neolithic sites on the island archipelago. The site has given up evidence that it may have been a ritualistic site which was sometimes used for the mass slaughter and feasting on of large numbers of cattle. To a sound designer this paints an audio image that would be worthy of composition. There are so many potential angles to archaeoacoustics; it is the acoustic analysis of archaeology. Archaeoacoustics can give a ‘voice’ or soundtrack to our past.

To quote Kate Douglas of the New Scientist Magazine: “How do you listen to the past? Obviously there are no recordings from ancient times, so you need to think laterally. Luckily, the nascent field of archaeoacoustics is not short of creative thinkers… Not just that, they can create an acoustic fingerprint of a cave using a “sine sweep” – effectively recording the response of the space to a series of scans emitting a rainbow of all audible frequencies.”

The Third International Archaeoacoustics Conference

Nick Green at Tomar, Portugal

Having recently returned from the Third International Archaeoacoustics conference and paper presentation in Tomar, Portugal, I believe the field of archaeoacoustics is in rude health, but never so more scrutinised by its practitioners from within. Having begun so enthusiastically, it has now reached a stage of critical self-reflection, with many of its practitioners questioning the direction and way forward for this relatively new field of research. Indeed, the next logical progression would seem to be the formation of an International Society – the International Society for Archaeoacoustic Research?

I have decided as a field impulse response recordist that a study of field recording methodologies and techniques in archaeoacoustic research need to be explored further. There are enough researchers in the field across the globe engaged in audio field recording in heritage sites to justify a study to discover a mean approach which may lead to a standardised methodology. However, with exponential advances in digital technology, this needs approached with caution although risks and experimentation need to be made room for and encouraged. However digital technologies can help bring our archaeology and our imaginations alive, to paraphrase Dragos Gheorhiu; ‘digital and virtual reality technologies are the new shamanism – it can transport us’.

Nick Green with Prof Chris Scarre

The conference itself was a truly amazing experience. It included field trips and presentations by in the field archaeologists, museum curators and academics. We were also treated to a surprise visit by Professor Chris Scarre, co-editor of the first archaeoacoustics conference proceedings at Cambridge University in 2003, who coined the term ‘archaeoacoustics’. There was art inspired by culture, heritage and sound design and performances both impromptu and organised.

The programme of speakers featured long established researchers in the field and many new and younger researchers. The youngest presenter was Keith Harvey (22), a first class Honours graduate of Perth College UHI. I was delighted to see how encouraging the established voices in archaeoacoustics were and nurturing in their advice and help towards Keith and others. It bodes well for the future.

Archaeoacoustics in Scotland

The Scots were well represented at the event with myself, Keith Harvey and PhD archaeologist Michelle Walker all representing the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Keith spoke about his project which examined the acoustic properties from most of the cathedrals on mainland UK – an extensive undertaking. Michelle presented her PhD study on audio phenomena in Sculptors Cave on the Moray Firth. The cave was used by our Bronze Age and Pictish ancestors, with Bronze Age people using it as a burial site.

Carving at Maeshowe, Orkney

Our presentations inspired many of the delegates we spoke to express an interest for the next international archaeoacoustics conference to be held in Scotland. We certainly have a wealth of sites to explore. Professor Jane Downes from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute has suggested the conference could be hosted in Orkney where visits to the archaeological sites of Brodgar, Maes Howe, Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles could be arranged.

As part of my own work, I have conducted recordings at Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven, St. Andrews Castle and the Sacristy of Arbroath Abbey, a space well known for its impressive reverb.

On the topic of reservation, it’s interesting to note that the longest reverb time ever recorded (as evidenced by Guinness World Records) happens to be at a de-commissioned WWII fuel dump built into the side of a Scottish mountain in the Highlands. This does not mean it is the longest reverb time, it’s just that Trevor Cox of Salford University happened to record it using a starter’s pistol firing as the impulse response. It is a staggering one minute and twelve seconds in length, the average living room is less than a second! The previous world record was also measured in a space in Scotland at Hamilton Mausoleum.

It’s great to see the field of archaeoacoustics continuing to develop and that Scotland, with a range of acoustically interesting sites and an ever growing number of practitioners, can consider itself to be an important part of this evolving discipline.

Nick Green, Sector Manager for Audio Engineering and Theatre Arts, Perth College UHI, University of the Highlands and Islands